In 2014, the University of Denver’s Dalbey Photographic Collection published a trove of photos taken by a Soviet journalist, Semyon Osipovich Fridlyand, who travelled the USSR in the 1950s for the magazine Ogonyok, which was kind of the Soviet version of LIFE Magazine. Hidden in the massive collection are three remarkable photographs that made my eyes light up. They show Nikolai Tsivchinskiy, the father of tapestry and mosaic art in Kazakhstan, in the studio of the Kovroschitsa Artel, later renamed to the Alma-Ata Carpet Factory (and known today, in a much diminished form, as Almaty Kilem). When Tsivchinskiy was sent to Kazakhstan from his homeland in Ukraine, he founded the country’s first major workshop for tapestries, and later he would produce the republic’s very first wall mosaics. Yet despite this groundbreaking role in the history of Kazakhstan’s monumental art, I’ve only found two photographs of Tsivchinskiy until now, one a pixely photograph of a younger artist, and another from when the man was in his 60s and the peak of his career had already passed. Here, we not only see the man in full, but we get to see the products of his workshop that represent some early examples of Soviet tapestry art in Kazakhstan.
This fall, reporter Daryl Mersom came to Kazakhstan to write about the recent spate of Soviet art "discoveries," and his article "Almaty spills its secrets: lost Soviet art discovered behind wall" is out today on Guardian Cities. The Guardian's Shaun Walker first wrote about Monumental Almaty in October 2017 for the piece "Missing murals: the lost Soviet art of the Stans." Bringing international attention to the existence and importance of Kazakhstan's monumental art is one of our main objectives, so these are encouraging developments!